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Weekly Links #258: impatient learner edition

24 February 2019 — No Time To Play

Hello, and welcome to my weekly gamedev newsletter. This Sunday I'm a little short on news again. Between finishing up another interpreter, and writing a piece of flash fiction, not many news managed to hold my attention. Might as well take the time to write about an issue I've been noticing lately.

Look, we all have to start somewhere, and in the beginning it's normal to trip and stumble a lot. So when you know you're still learning? Maybe don't rush. Lately I see people trying to get started making games with Pygame who clearly haven't yet mastered, not just Python, but elementary programming concepts like loops and lists. And they don't seem to take the hint when gently pointed in that direction.

And you know what? I've been through the "gonna make the ultimate MMORPG" stage. It never went anywhere either, of course. But that was after 8-9 years of programming as a hobby, and another 3 or 4 profesionally. At least I had a reason to be overconfident. And a team of friends with similar or better skill level.

Kids are growing up so fast these days. With that however seems to come a degree of impatience. Which isn't helped by "easy" tools like Scratch, which do nothing but sweep complexity under the rug. At least Love2D won't let you forget there's a game loop behind the scenes, even if it's normally hidden from sight and not under your control. Even better, you can pop the hood open and fiddle with it if you know what you're doing.

Back in my day, the entire computer was like that. You wanted a loop? You'd use a GO TO. Keeping track of multiple sprites? Use an array of X and Y coordinates. It was damn hard. I wouldn't go back for anything but the simplest games. (There's a reason shoot'em ups were so popular in the 1980s.) But the moment when I got a friend's explanation that the complex clockwork movement of a game like Dizzy resulted from every single sprite being updated little by little in turn, while music played one note at a time?

That flash of revelation is going to stay with me until death. And this level of understanding makes all the difference.

In the way of extended news, we have a new tool for retrogaming enthusiasts, and advice for launching a career in games writing. Details after the cut.

Read more...

Tags: retro, tools, personal, philosophy

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Weekly Links #257

17 February 2019 — No Time To Play

This week is starting out strong for a change. On Sunday was published an interview with Felipe Pepe of The CRPG Book Project fame (via K.D.). And on Monday we got an article about Sega's Super Scaler technology, that powered so many arcade classics. I've only played OutRun and AfterBurner II out of them, and my favorite 2.5D game isn't among them, but I'm still in love with the style, and even created my own graphics engine to keep it alive.

Also on Monday, an indie creator shares his first year of game development in words and screenshots, and it sounds like an amazing journey. People get up to speed damn fast these days.

A much bigger story emerged as the week went on, extensively covered by numerous sources: that of Activision firing 800 Blizzard employees despite Blizzard making record profits in 2018, just because those profits were a little bit below expectations. Never mind the sheer callousness of the decision, and the way it was handled. Never mind the "I told you so". Right now I'd love to hear from those people who insist that without the big publishers we wouldn't have seen a lot of great games that made history. Tell me, how many more great games we could have seen from Blizzard, and now we never will because their corporate owner is forcing them to focus on milking cash cows instead of, ya'know, continuing to innovate?

Enjoy your capitalism. I'll be over there playing little indie games made with PICO-8.

Speaking of which: just last week I was reviewing a new fantasy console. Soon after, a post on the PICO-8 forum reminded me of this big list on GitHub. And you know... that's kind of cool actually. Making a new fantasy console has turned into a sort of hobby. One I get all too well, having created several authoring systems for interactive fiction that hardly saw any use. But at least each of mine has a unique gimmick I can explain easily. Whereas with most fantasy consoles, there's no obvious reason to use one over the others.

Which, of course, is a valuable insight in itself. Cheers!

Tags: retro, arcade, rpg, interview, business, tools

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Weekly Links #256

10 February 2019 — No Time To Play

Hello, everyone. Some weeks I get so caught up in a project or other that it leaves me little attention to spare for gaming news worth commenting on. This time it was the interpreter architecture mentioned last week. Figured I'd give it a good workout, you see, and work out it did, a lot better than expected. As of this writing I'm on the way to releasing a real-world, if not very useful, version. People are already interested in the online preview, so my hopes are high for once. And damn if it doesn't feel good to have a scripting language that can be ported to a new platform literally in hours, even as it's grown enough to not really be a toy anymore.

In the way of news, I hear the big publishers are all complaining about a terrible 2018, financially speaking. By which they mean profits are a few percent below their unreasonable expectations, so they're firing hundreds of people to keep the obscene bonuses of CEOs intact. Cue a "meanwhile, in Japan" moment: it was just last month, if memory serves, that Nintendo management cut their own wages in half so they'd have enough to keep paying their employees. Again.

That's why they continue to be so successful, folks: for all their sins, Nintendo is a humane business, and it shows in everything they do. Including games.

One other topic this week: at the very last moment, fluffy alerts me of a new game development tool called Môsi. It's inspired by Bitsy, except with a lot more features and designed for making games on a smartphone.

Or so it's supposed to; on mobile Chrome all I got was a blank screen. On desktop I can play the example, and browse through the various editor tabs, though actually editing sprites and rooms doesn't work in either Opera or Firefox. Oh well, Môsi is in early development. And there's quite a bit to look at: you can choose the size of your game world, that of a screen, a sprite, and even how many colors your game will have. Sprites can have multiple animation frames, and rich interactions are possible, including branching and looping. In other words... programming (cue finger wiggling), though it's all visual.

Not much more to say about it at this point, but this right here is a thing to watch closely. Could easily take off in a big way. And did I mention it's open source?

Thanks for reading, and enjoy the Sunday!

Tags: tools, programming, business

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Weekly Links #252

13 January 2019 — No Time To Play

Hello, everyone! As gaming news worthy of attention are fashionably late this week, I took the time to write an article about alternate uses for gamedev tools. It concludes my year-long exploration of this particular topic, at least for now. Not that I'll stop working on my own tools, or finding cool new uses for them. The focus will simply be on other things. And hey, that's a good season finale, that foreshadows the next one like it's supposed to.

In the way of news, on Wednesday, PCGamer posts a fascinating insight into how the Infinity Engine was made. And on Thursday we have a couple of game development blog posts worth mentioning:

  • First, a look at the virtual city of Rubacava. For those who can't place it instantly, that's from Grim Fandango, one of the most famous graphical adventures ever made. Not much to say there, Konstantinos Dimopoulos knocks it out of the park as usual. I'll just add that cities are dear to my heart, most of my own fiction (less so my games) taking place in one, and even though I only know Rubacava from the game's novelization, it's still a special place.
  • Then, musings on designing the user interface of a sci-fi business simulator. Note how many examples they took inspiration from, some fictional, others very much real. If only designers of practical software did the same, because Prosperous Universe sounds like a game to watch closely.

Last but not least, Anatoly Shashkin points out that a history of Ocean Software from a few years ago was just released for free on the Internet Archive. Unfortunately all the download options are gigantic. Can't tell you much about files I can't actually open on my computer. But if you have a beefier machine, knowing how 8-bit pioneers did their great work is probably worth the trouble.

Enjoy, and see you next week.

Tags: news, tools, rpg

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New beginnings

01 January 2019 — No Time To Play

Happy New Year, dear readers. If you can read this, the No Time To Play blog has come home at last. Even more, it's now future-proof. Well, not as much as I'd like. This format will have to be revisited again in five year's time. But you know what? By that point, this site will have been online for fifteen! If it's still around then, having to reboot the blog again will be the least of my worries.

As part of this renewal, I'll make a deliberate effort to talk about No Time To Play in the singular. It's been just me for years, after all, apart from Nightwrath's moral support (and occasional link to comment on), and Kelketek's contributed article from... yikes, 11 months ago already. Might as well make it more personal.

What to write about in 2019 is the thorny question. At the beginning of last year, I set myself game-making tools as the topic of choice. That worked, after a fashion, but for my failure to reach a satisfying conclusion. Gonna have to do that before moving on. And then... what?

Suggestions are welcome. It's just that we'll have to talk on social media somewhere. Sorry about that. Can't have them all.

Well, there is something. After a string of disappointing releases, I spent the past few months trying to rekindle my interest in making games. And you know what? That was the entirely wrong way to look at things. Some of my best work in recent years, as measured by audience interest, has been little interactive toys that are only tangentially game-related. A tabletop RPG sourcebook in Twine format. An unfinished walking simulator. A low-tech graphics engine and suite of tools.

Earlier in autumn I expressed the opinion that maybe we should stop thinking in terms of game design. Writers don't think in terms of "novella design". They think of what they have to say. Let's go one step further and stop thinking in terms of games. Interactivity itself is a medium; let's see what we can express with it that we can't in any other way.

It doesn't have to be a contest. It doesn't have to be a product. Or even art.

Let's make nice things that bring people joy. We can sort them out later.

Tags: meta, personal, tools, interaction, philosophy

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